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Experiencing sexual harassment in the virtual office

On Behalf of | Sep 19, 2023 | Sexual Harassment |

The online space has invited more opportunities for remote work to flourish. In a virtual setting, you are easily accessible to people across all regions, from teammates to clients and customers.

But what happens when the attention you’re getting isn’t the good kind? Sadly, some people take advantage of the online world to act in ways they shouldn’t. And yes, this can include sexual harassment, even when you’re working remotely.

A gateway to severe stress

Sexual harassment represents a form of unlawful discrimination. This type of discrimination occurs when a person receives unwelcome sexual advances or favors verbally or physically. This type of conduct could affect the person’s perception of work and their safety, including their:

  • Mental health
  • Feelings of safety and security
  • Physical health
  • Relationships with co-workers

Harassment may also cause victims to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in severe cases. This added stress results in their decreased ability to concentrate, leaving them unsatisfied with their job, work performance and productivity.

Unsafe virtual work environment

No work environment is immune to sexual harassment, including remote work, where employees communicate and interact through email, phone, chat or videoconferencing. Some common types of sexual harassment that could happen in remote work are:

  • Sexual messages in the form of jokes, memes, images, videos, or links to another employee without their consent or interest
  • Sexual comments or requests
  • Sexual imagery or audio by another showing their genitals, pornographic material, or playing of noises or music in the background during a call
  • Sexual discussions of topics related to a person’s sexual history, preferences or fantasies
  • Sexist remarks or jokes about women or men in general

These are some examples of sexual harassment that may occur in remote work. However, this is not a comprehensive list, and each case may vary depending on the circumstances.

If an employee is experiencing some form of sexual harassment, they may minimize the situation by saying it only occurred virtually. However, experiencing or witnessing any form of sexual conduct in any work setting is never ok. The digital space is not an excuse to behave unethically. Due to fears of retaliation, employees who witnessed can help out their colleagues by filing a complaint with their direct manager or through a state agency to seek redress if it continues.